Starlink bags US defense contract to keep war-torn Ukraine connected
And poor Elon gets a break from subsidies
Starlink has scored an official US government contract to supply satellite services to Ukraine, according to reports.
The news follows confirmation earlier this week of an additional $300 million worth of weapons systems and other aid being sent to the country.
The satellite operator, part of Elon Musk's SpaceX business, started off providing much-needed satellite communications capability to war-torn Ukraine at its own expense, but it has now secured an official Department of Defense (DoD) contract to fund those services.
According to various sources, an unnamed DoD official said in a statement: "Satellite communications constitute a vital layer in Ukraine's overall communications network and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this type."
The spokesperson confirmed the DoD continues to work with "a range of global partners to ensure Ukraine has the resilient satellite and communication capabilities they need," but for operational security reasons and the critical nature of these systems, "we do not have additional information regarding specific capabilities, contracts, or partners to provide at this time."
SpaceX did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Starlink started providing Ukraine with terminals and a country-wide service soon after it was hit by the Russian invasion in February 2022. At first, the satellite operator was essentially funding this itself, but Musk eventually started to complain about the cost of subsidizing Ukraine, claiming last October that doing so had cost the company more than $80 million up to that date.
In a letter sent by SpaceX to the DoD, Musk said he wanted the Pentagon to start picking up the tab for providing vital communications services for Ukraine, with the company claiming it would cost $120 million to the end of the year, and nearly $400 million for the following 12 months.
Now it appears that the Pentagon has caved to Musk's demands, although it is not clear when the contract for services to Ukraine came into effect or how much it is worth in dollar terms.
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Back in February, it emerged that Starlink had taken unidentified steps to prevent Ukrainian forces from using its satellite service for what the company regarded as unacceptable purposes, such as to remotely control drones.
At the time, SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said that Starlink was never meant to be weaponized, but claimed that "Ukrainians have leveraged it in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement."
This may have had something to do with Russia issuing a warning to the United Nations that commercial satellite systems like Starlink risked becoming legitimate military targets by allowing their services to be used in warzones.
Chinese military researchers also published a paper earlier this year suggesting that lasers and high-power microwaves might be used as a means to disable Starlink satellites without blowing them up and creating vast amounts of debris that would threaten other satellites and spacecraft.
Starlink is estimated to have upwards of 4,000 Starlink communications satellites deployed into low Earth orbit via SpaceX launches, with the most recent being a batch of 52 delivered in a launch on May 31. ®